How to Write a Successful RFP in Law Enforcement

Oct. 3, 2019
What makes a successful request for proposal? Steve Zalkin, President of the North American Association of Uniform Manufacturers & Distributors (NAUMD) offers some advice

Writing a request for proposal (RFP) or request for information (RFI) is exactly what it sounds like. You submit requests to vendors asking for detailed proposals before deciding which wins your project. They differ in that RFPs ask for service and product pricing while an RFI is informational only. A bid must follow the RFI should you decide to purchase a product. What makes a successful RFP? 

Have a clear understanding of the wants and needs for your agency 

Vendors want your business and can submit their best proposal if they understand the project's full intent. Don't skimp on the details.

Knowledge is power, so invite vendors to meet with you to discuss their products and services. You'll glean valuable information about product availability, product care, delivery time frames, service agreements, pricing structures (keep in mind the real prices are given with the RFP submission), warranty agreements, returns, refunds, minimum orders and any other questions of importance. You'll be a knowledgeable purchaser by the end of these meets.

Provide specific details about the product or service to purchase 

Specifications can be written as general or specific depending on agency needs. As an example, a general bid specification for body armor may read: "Vendor to supply and deliver Level IIIA Body Armor with two concealable carriers and a soft trauma pack." This general specification opens the economic competitive process to many vendors providing their best pricing.

There is a trade-off when using this approach. Your agency communicates that it is open to purchasing any brand or style; service is typically limited. General specifications open the bid process to product variances within a category.

PRO TIP: 7 Things an RFP Needs

  • Introduction & Background
  • Submission Guidelines and Requirements
  • Project Description
  • Project Scope
  • RFP & Projected Timelines
  • Evaluation Factors
  • Price Sheet

At the other end of the spectrum is detailed specifications that provides a specific brand and service required. A specific body armor specification might read: "Armor Express Style -Seraph IIIA soft body armor: requirements - NIJ 0101.06 certified; must meet DEA compliant and FBI test protocol; two each Revolution Carriers, one soft trauma pack. Body armor must be manufactured in both female and male cuts. Vendor required to quarterly measure individuals at agency (this may also read vendor to have a retail storefront within [##] miles of department headquarters); vendor must deliver body armor within 90 days of order. But remember, more detailed specifications and services may limit competition and result in a higher price."

Clearly identify purchase quantity and purchase time frame but be realistic. Vendor responses essentially calculate their raw material costs, overhead, labor and profit margin (yes vendors need to make a profit to keep their doors open) into their pricing. If your agency’s policy is to replace body armor every five years on a rotational basis, then you will be purchasing 20 pieces of body armor a year for a 100-person department. Clearly state the contract time frame as longer times frames may result in better pricing. Vendors love to budget their business with a predictable revenue stream.

Yet, they may be reluctant to sign a five-year contract without a reasonable price escalation clause. Business typically cannot see more than one or two years in advance. Consider locking in firm pricing for the first two years with an annual escalation clause linked to a specific consumer price index.

Transparency is key

If an agency intends to award their project strictly on the price it should be stated in writing. If the objective of the RFP is to locate a source that will provide the best overall value, then specify what value means. You might say, "'while price is a significant factor, other criteria, such as past performance, experience, and responsiveness, will form the basis of our award decision."

Do not hesitate to ask for samples or to ask for references 

The RFP should provide a date and time vendors must return completed responses. State when a vendor will be selected. Depending on the size of your project you might want to consider requiring a bid bond or performance bond. The bond requirements typically will remove smaller vendors that are unable to handle the project. Finally, make sure to state if you plan to give preference to minority-owned business.

Remember, like knowledge, information is power. The more a vendor has, the better the pricing will be.

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